The Bourgeois Citizen in Nineteenth-Century France: Gender, Sociability, and the Uses of Emulation

By Carol E. Harrison | Go to book overview

4
Honest Amusements

Gustave Flaubert Dictionary of Platitudes, a compilation of nineteenth- century bourgeois clichés, naturally encompassed the phenomenon of association. Sandwiched between censure and certificat we find cercle, the most common appellation for a gentlemen's club, and Flaubert assures us that 'one must always belong to one'.1 Not everyone belonged, of course, but the Dictionary's ironic sting lies in its collapsing all distinctions between 'bourgeois men' and 'everyone'. Everyone who mattered--the generators of Flaubert's clichés, the bourgeois of provincial France-- recognized cercle membership as an important mark of status. The conflation of bourgeois and mankind that Habermas identified in the foundation of the public sphere still operated in the early nineteenth century, although sharp observers like Flaubert perceived its shortcomings and found humour in them. Frequenting a cercle was a common point of access for men--bourgeois men--to the public sphere. Cercle membership proclaimed a man to be leisured, respectable, cultivated, and public- spirited: leisure and its sociable ties united men in bourgeois identity.

Leisure was a problem in the early nineteenth century. Indeed, one might identify a 'leisure question' in the interstices of more familiar nineteenth-century questions about the organization of society and the position of women. The issue of leisure circulated around the poles of gender and class. If masculinity were defined in terms of work, how could it be maintained in repose? How could bourgeois men distinguish their own, well-deserved rest from feminine or aristocratic idleness? How could masculinity and bourgeois status be invested simultaneously in a work ethic and in the conspicuous consumption of leisure?2 Not to

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1
Ouevres complètes ( 2. vols.; Paris, 1964), ii. 305. Because 'club' had such specific political connotations in nineteenth-century France, I will use 'cercle' to refer to sociable bourgeois associations.
2
Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions ( 2nd edn.; London, 1949). See also Joffre Dumazedier, Toward a Society of Leisure, S. McClure (trans.) ( New York, 1967), 8-12, 35-40, and Peter Bailey, "'A Mingled Mass of Perfectly Legitimate Pleasures: The Victorian Middle Class and the Problem of Leisure'",

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